India faces backlash for slum clearances ahead of G20 summit


As the highly anticipated G20 summit approaches, India, often regarded as a voice for the impoverished, finds itself embroiled in controversy over the forced demolition of slums and shanties in New Delhi. The pre-dawn bulldozer operations have left thousands of marginalized residents in despair and uncertainty.

Among the affected residents is 56-year-old Jayanti Devi, who, for three decades, called a shanty on a decrepit pavement in New Delhi her home. The demolitions, however, are strategically timed to obscure such scenes from the eyes of world leaders attending the G20 summit at the Pragati Maidan complex.

While the government contends that these structures are “illegal” and promises to rehome some of the affected communities, activists argue that the timing suggests a different motive – a “beautification” campaign to impress foreign dignitaries.

India’s desire to present itself as a modern superpower and a champion for impoverished nations at the G20 summit clashes with the stark reality of slum demolitions. Harsh Mander, a social activist, notes, “India, the Indian state, is ashamed of ostensible poverty.”

The Indian government denies any links between the demolitions and the G20 summit, but questions persist about the true motivations behind these actions.

Delhi’s glaring disparities, with millionaires living adjacent to homeless families, underscore the depth of the issue. Only a fraction of the city’s population resides in “planned” or “approved” neighborhoods, while the majority inhabit slums and unauthorized areas.

The demolitions have not spared historic landmarks either. Savita and her family watched helplessly as their settlement next to the 14th century Tughlaqabad Fort was razed to the ground. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) claims these residents encroached on the land, despite years of habitation.

Over 100,000 residents in the Tughlaqabad area lost their homes in April, with many forced to live under tarpaulin sheets amidst harsh conditions.

This isn’t the first time India has undertaken such slum clearances before an international event. In 2010, ahead of the Commonwealth Games, similar actions disrupted the lives of thousands.

Critics argue that the government is unfairly targeting the poor for living on unauthorized land. The Delhi government pledges rehabilitation but struggles to provide immediate assistance.

As India positions itself as a leader of emerging nations at the G20 summit, activists emphasize the irony of this image when the country’s poorest face adversity at home. As one activist puts it, there should be a “fundamental right to life… to live with dignity.”

For Savita and others, the dreams they had for their families lie in ruins, overshadowed by the preparations for a global summit. Their plight raises questions about India’s commitment to addressing its own deep-seated issues of poverty and inequality in the midst of international acclaim.

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